News Release

Pascal Lee awarded the 2023 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization

Wonderfest recognizes Dr. Pascal Lee for excellence in science outreach

Grant and Award Announcement

SETI Institute



Dr. Pascal Lee

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Credit: SETI Institute

November 2, 2023, Mountain View, CA -- The SETI Institute is delighted to announce that Dr. Pascal Lee will be honored with the 2023 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization presented by Wonderfest. The prestigious Sagan Prize recognizes and encourages individuals who “have contributed wonderfully to the public understanding and appreciation of science.” Previous recipients from the SETI Institute include SETI Institute co-founder and SETI pioneer Jill Tarter, senior astronomer Seth Shostak and trustee Andrew Fraknoi.

“I am truly delighted and humbled by this award,” says Pascal Lee, “all the more because Carl Sagan was, and remains, such an inspiration and encouragement to so many to share their love of science and to advocate for informed, rational, critical thinking.”

Lee is a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute, the founder and chairman of the Mars Institute, a professor of planetary science at the Kepler Space Institute, and the director of the NASA Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames Research Center. His research focuses on the history of water on Mars and planning the future human exploration of the Moon and Mars. Lee has led more than 30 expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica to study Mars by comparison with the Earth. His areas of research extend to asteroids, the moons of Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan, and SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

But Lee has also been a passionate advocate for planetary and deep space exploration, and has shared with students and the public worldwide his love for space science. He has given countless public and school talks over the past decades, including his sought-after lectures “From Earth to Mars” about humanity’s future journeys to Mars, and the more speculative “N~1: Alone in The Milky Way” in which he argues that there might be very few advanced civilizations per galaxy. His first book, Mission: Mars, won the 2015 Prize for  Excellence in Children’s Science Books from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Additionally, the 2016 motion picture documentary film Passage to Mars chronicles Lee and his team’s epic, perilous and record-setting trek across the sea ice of the Northwest Passage in the Arctic to help prepare for the future human exploration of Mars.

Tucker Hiatt, Director of Wonderfest, says of Lee receiving the award: “Sagan would be proud to know that Pascal Lee, renowned for both his research and his outreach, and who served as Sagan’s last teaching assistant at Cornell University, has received Wonderfest’s Sagan Prize for 2023”.

More information about the Wonderfest Sagan Prize can be found here:, and about Wonderfest’s award to Dr Lee here:

About the SETI Institute

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to lead humanity’s quest to understand the origins and prevalence of life and intelligence in the universe and share that knowledge with the waorld. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages data analytics, machine learning, and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia, and government agencies, including NASA and the National Science Foundation.

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